preschoolers

Raising the Good Guys and Bad Guys

The three people in my house under the age of five have been obsessed with the idea of good guys and bad guys lately.

“I’m Batman!” Caden, my four-year-old-son, proclaims as he runs around in his blanket cape.

“And Robin!” the two-year-old replies, right behind him.

“Let’s get the bad guys!” they cry in unison.

My husband and I are usually stand-ins for the villains. I sigh inwardly at their use of the term “bad guys”. But this is all so developmentally appropriate, this cop-and-robber-type play, I’m not sure I should step in, or even what to say if I do.

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“The world turned upside down. The world turned upside down,” The kids and I sing along to Hamilton as we color at the kitchen table. “The world turned upside down.”

“What’s this song about?” Caden asks me. His twin sister perks up to hear my answer to his question. (The two-year-old continues on his mission to break every crayon we own.) I pause. While we’ve been singing along to this soundtrack for months, this is the first time they’ve asked about it. Usually it’s enough for them thatMy Shot” makes an excellent dance tune.

“Well...” I fumble. I minored in history in college. My brain tumbles over facts and stories, but which ones are appropriate for preschoolers? “A long time ago, our country fought another country. They were kind of in charge of us but we didn’t think they treated us very nicely. So we fought them and, well, we won.” I’m not sure they even have any concept of what a country is yet.

“We won?” he asks, eyes brightening. This he understands.

“We did.”

“And the bad guys lost?”

“Well...they weren’t really bad. They just believed different things than we did. They weren’t bad people, we just didn’t feel like they were treating us fairly. So we fought for what we thought was right. And they fought for what they thought was right.”

I’ve lost him now, though. He goes back to coloring, now singing his own little song under his breath that talks about how “we won and the bad guys lost.” Well. I tried.

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Continue reading how I’m working to teach my children about the shades of gray in the world over at SheLoves Magazine.





What I See (Part II)

Thursday afternoon, we went to Nolan’s Early Childhood Screening appointment. I guess I’m not sure how this works in other states, but here in Minnesota, all children are screened at the age of three by their school district to prepare them for Kindergarten. They check vision and hearing, standard doctor appointment stuff, but also their verbal abilities, fine and gross motor skills, etc. The goal is to intervene and help kids as soon as possible - refer them to speech therapy or an appointment with an optometrist - to catch potential problems sooner rather than later.

I wondered as we drove if I should have rescheduled Nolan’s appointment. The twins had done theirs at his age, but they seemed more mature. Maybe I should have waited six months or so. He was smart but was he really ready? I thought of his energy, his defiance. Would he even answer the teacher’s questions? I prayed the next hour or so would go well. If nothing else, I figured we’d be directed to a therapist.

I sat in the hard, blue plastic chair across the room filling out paperwork as Nolan copied the teacher as she stacked blocks, drew a circle and some lines on a page. I listened as he quietly told her all about the yellow car she handed him with the red wheels that were circles and went vroom. My shoulders relaxed; it seemed to be going well.

It did go well. It went very well.

“He scored a 23,” the educator told me as we went over his score sheet afterward, “He only needed a 14 to pass. I’ve almost never seen a 3-year-1-monther do so well.”

I stared in disbelief at the paper, noted that he scored far past what he would have needed even six months from now.

“His cognitive abilities are impressive,” she told me, “He was able to do things even the four-year olds I see have trouble with. And he is very verbal.” (Yeah, tell me something I don’t know.)

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The day before, Wednesday afternoon, I had knocked gently on Tyson’s office door. I try not to bother him during the day. I usually only knock on the door if I need to raid his office for a fresh roll of tape or some batteries.

He opened the door and I put my head on his chest and started crying. I could sense his surprise. (We can both probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve cried in our eight years of marriage.)

“I’m so...tired...of parenting Nolan,” I finally told him.

That morning Nolan had tried every single ounce of patience I had and even a couple extra ounces I didn’t even know were there.

“Nolan, don’t go in the sandbox right now, it’s too muddy,” I told him. About twelve times. (Along with a few other variations such as “Keep your feet on the sidewalk” and “Show me how you go down the slide instead.”)

“Leave the chalk in the bucket,” I told him. Only to find him a few minutes later sending stubby piece after stubby piece down the slide.

“Put the chalk back in the bucket please,” I said. He defiantly looked away. I touched his cheek to make him look at me. “I told you before not to take it out. Your consequence now is to pick it up.” It took a few minutes, but he did pick up a few pieces from the rainbow pile on the ground, now wet from the morning dew and still-melting snow. Half-heartedly. I found him eating pieces of chalk not long after.

These were not isolated incidents in an otherwise calm morning. This was all in the same eight-minute span. Previously he’d also waved a stick around and hit two people in the face, taken off both his shoes and socks at the park in the 42-degree weather (one landed in a puddle), and refused to throw his granola bar wrapper in the garbage at snacktime. As Mad-Eye Moody would say, the boy needs constant vigilence!

It wasn’t an unusual morning, either. It was just the latest in nearly three years of days that had gone just the same. Three years of attempting to balance his needs for high energy and high socialization without burning myself out in the process.

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The drive home from the screening appointment was very different from the one there. I kept glancing back at him in my rearview mirror, his big, bright eyes searching the sky for airplanes as they so often do, munching on some bright orange crackers that were leftover from his earlier snack.

Who are you? I kept thinking. His score was high, higher even than Caden and Brooklyn’s when they completed their own screening just two years ago. I was just hoping you would pass and now I feel like my world is upside down.

It’s not that I didn’t think he was smart - he is. But Caden and Brooklyn’s high scores for the same screening weren’t a surprise for me. They’re the ones I’ve always been concerned with pushing academically. Nolan with all his energy — I’ve just been concerned with trying to keep him alive.

As I drove I thought of my prayer for him every night, Lord please just channel his energy into good, and I wondered at the blue-eyed boy in the backseat, babbling about PJ Masks and oblivious to all of my thoughts.

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“So how’d it go?” Tyson asked as I made dinner that night.

I looked at him, wondering how to answer. “It went fine. He passed,” I finally said.

He sensed the hesitency in my voice, “Just barely?”

“Tyson, he more than passed. He scored even higher than Caden and Brooklyn did.”

“Oh,” Tyson’s eyes widened and he laughed, “I just hoped he would pass. Awesome!”

I smiled even as my mind continued to swirl, wondering what to do with my trouble-making, energetic, clever little boy.

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Thursday night, I sat at my kitchen island and Googled what to do with him. I researched energetic three-year olds and smart three-year olds, and didn’t find much help. It’s not exactly like there’s advanced preschool. (Also felt like the world’s most obnoxious parent for Googling “gifted three-year olds”.) I read about engaging him in as many activities as possible, to give a direction to his energy and focus his high capacity for learning. This at least explained why he’d excelled in dance class all year.

It also gave credit to the theory I’ve had in my head for awhile, that he was smart but bored, and his energy and constant search for attention was the outward manifestation of the intelligence buried inside.

I rubbed my forehead as I searched for programs and activities - anything -  for three-year olds which were either a.) nonexistent or b.) combined with the two-year olds. I sighed and gave up for the evening, relieved that I had at least signed up him for three mornings of preschool in the fall.

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Over a week later and I’m still thinking about that screening appointment, still feel a little as though my world has been turned upside down. I’ve told some relatives and friends how well his screening went and have mostly been met with the response, “Yeah that doesn’t surprise me”. Maybe because they’re further removed from the day-to-day challenges than I am, of parenting a little someone with such boundless energy.

I feel the weight of the responsibility - even more than before - to watch over him, push him, protect him. To work even harder to engage and advocate for him. If I can help him channel his energy now, guide him, direct him, parent him, love him. If I can find him the right activities, teachers, coaches, so that he can thrive.

He burns so brightly already. I want him to shine. I want everyone to see just what he can do.

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Tyson has been playing a game with Nolan lately, taking inspiration from the book Dear Zoo.

“First God sent me an Emily,” Tyson tells him, “But I didn’t want an Emily. So I sent her back.”

“Then God sent me a Logan,” Tyson continues, “But I didn’t want a Logan. So I sent him back.”

Tyson continues on, listing off the names of Nolan’s friends and sending them back. Nolan’s smile grows bigger every time.

“Then God thought really hard and he sent me a Nolan,” Tyson finally says, “And he was perfect. I kept him”

Perfect. We’re keeping him. I’m going to watch him climb some more.

Life Lately

It’s officially spring. Spring feels like the new year to me. The bright sun (out past 5 pm!), melting snow, birds chirping. Forget all that “new year new you” stuff on January 1st. That’s the deepest, darkest part of the middle of winter, for crying out loud. Forget adding workouts or salads to the routine. The only thing I’m ready to do come January 1 is sleep a little more (because it’s dark all the time), bulk up with more creamy soups and all the carbs (I mean, fresh, local produce is basically nonexistant so clearly this is what the good Lord intended), and increase my caffeine intake (because I tried to sleep more but then remembered at 6 am that I still have children). No, whoever invented the calendar made a real mistake; January doesn’t feel like the new year at all. But spring sure does.

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Tyson gave me a 10-class pass to a new yoga studio just down the road from us. For Christmas. And “new yoga studio” meaning well over a year old. Every time I drive by I think, “I really need to check that place out.” I’ve started to make use of it just this past week, killing myself in barre class and powering through vinyasas. It feels good. It’s still sunny in the early evening and the threat of walking from a 92-degree yoga class into temperatures literally 100 degrees colder outside has passed. I’ve been continuing at home; for the past five days I’ve either done a class or some Yoga with Adriene in the living room. That’s damn near a record for me.

I’m emerging from my winter hibernation. And it feels good. Also sore. But mostly good.

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I noticed Caden made friends with another boy at basketball practice the other night. “Friends” meaning I saw Caden suddenly walk over to him and start retrieving his ball everytime he shot and missed the basket (which was...every time). Caden would run after the ball and dribble it back to him; he must’ve done it a couple dozen times.

I wondered at this show of kindness, and asked him about it on the way home, “Why did you start playing with that boy and getting his ball for him?”

“Oh,” Caden answered, matter-of-fact, “I noticed that he wasn’t very good at catching the ball or dribbling. So I made a deal with him that I would get it and give it back to him so he could shoot again.”

Well then. Not exactly selfless but maybe he’s onto something?

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The other morning they spent time playing together at the table after breakfast. Brooklyn painted with a set of watercolors while the boys put PJ Masks puzzles together. We don’t have many slow mornings, we’re usually either off to preschool, a playdate, the library, or the store. And often when we do, I regret it around 9:30, which is about the time we all seem ready to kill each other. But this time, it was nice. It’s often been nice, lately. I think they’re learning how to play with each other a bit more and feel the need to kill each other a little less. It made me think of just how few lazy mornings we’ll have next year.

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Which reminds me: these arrived in the mail the other day. Come mid-April, we will have not one but two kindergarteners officially registered for the 2019-20 school year. What in the actual world.

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Reading this piece on the beauty and hardship and life-giving that is women’s work.

Also this beautiful essay about mom anger. And not the “I told my kids to stop touching each other and spoke harsher than I should have” kind of anger that many (Christian) pieces talk about and make the rest of us feel bad. This is the real stuff.

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Cooking these egg roll bowls. I up the spices and serve topped with wonton strips and sweet Thai chili sauce for some egg roll realness. I keep meaning to add chopped water chestnuts but can never seem to remember. (Bonus: the leftovers are quick and easy for lunch!)

I’m also back on the iced coffee train. As soon as that temperature kept climbing above freezing I took this bad boy out. It will now remain in permanent residence in our refrigerator until about September. Or maybe October.

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We’ve officially entered the dramatic hyperbole stage as Brooklyn has begun to drawl, “Oh. my. gosh” and “Are you serious?” Also heard her exclaim, “I think I’m in heaven!” (over a piece of generously buttered popcorn) and “How embarrassing” (out of context, but points for trying). And those were just the ones I heard over the weekend!

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I’ve been obsessed with this fabric shaver. Yes, a de-fuzzer. Hello, life in my 30s.

There’s an old cardigan I love: the fit is perfect, the weight is just right, and the color goes with everything. Except it was covered with those annoying little fuzz balls. It looked sloppy. I wondered if I needed to give it up, find a new cardigan to adore.

Then I researched and purchased sweater shavers. One pass with the defuzzer and my cardigan was like new again. I’ve been using it on everything from sweaters to t-shirts to leggings (seriously saved a favorite and expensive pair of mine from Athleta).

It’s been especially worthwhile because I gave up buying things for Lent. Or at least, buying non-essential things. I’ve been trying to think of how to phrase this exactly. I couldn’t just give up online shopping because that’s how I order my groceries. Also, one crazy trip to Target could completely blow the intent of that fast. So I gave up buying things I just don’t need. No new clothes, nail polish, $6 lattes, etc. My foundation is about to run dry, so I’ll purchase a fresh one sometime in the next couple of weeks: it’s an essential I use just about every day. But eye shadow? Yeah. I have enough. I still order coffee if I go to a coffee shop to write (the way I see it, that’s just me paying my dues to be able to use their space). But no runs through the Caribou drive-thru just because. Clothes and accessories? Nope.

(Though ask me if I panic-ordered my way through a couple of web sites the Monday and Tuesday before Lent began. The answer to that is YES.)

(Also I completely forgot and bought a shirt when we went to see Michelle Obama on her book tour a couple weeks ago. We walked in, saw the merchandise tables, and my mom said, “I think we should all get matching shirts!” That was all it took for me to say, “Yes obviously!” and I proudly handed over my $35. Forgot about my fast literally until I walked into the house that night. Wore my shirt proudly the next day anyway.)

I’ve been keeping a list in my phone of things that keep running through my head, things that really would be nice for the new season. A pair of Birkenstocks. New sunglasses because mine have been through two seasons and sit kind of crooked. A new tumbler for smoothies or all that iced coffee I’m drinking since I recently dropped mine and shattered half the lid. (It still works for now...kinda.)

This is as much about checking myself before making impulse purchases as it is about saving myself time. I’ve begun to realize how often I would scroll through the Madewell website just to see what was new or on sale, how many shops I follow on Instagram, the number of times I would waste 10 minutes on a retail site with no intent of ever buying.

Anyway, all that to say, my de-fuzzer has come in especially handy at refreshing some of my “old” clothes and helping them look new again. $10 well spent. Even if you’re in the middle of a “don’t buy things” fast.

Forget Later

We’ve all heard it. Too many times, probably. Maybe as soon as we pushed those babies out of our bodies or welcomed them into our homes.

They’re only little once. Enjoy it. You can clean the mess later.

When exactly is later? I wonder, as I load up the dishwasher with the things we’ll need if we want to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner again tomorrow. In my head I picture a very literal “later”: a kitchen overcome with over a decade’s worth of dishes to tackle, after my youngest has presumably left the house. Twenty years worth of encrusted grime. Maybe we could use paper plates, but then who would take the garbage out? (Also: the environment. Not good.)

I think of the kids’ bathroom wedged between their bedrooms. How can I possibly clean this later? I can’t do it even after they’re all asleep. The sound of the toilet flushing would wake up the twins on the other side of one wall; running the water to scrub the bathtub would wake up the third on the other side of another.

I look around the playroom after a joy-filled afternoon of play and sigh. The last thing I want to do is deal with this later. It’s a disaster. Absolutely worth it, since all three kids played together so well with everything from puzzles to their play kitchen. But still a complete and total watch-where-you-step-because-you-can’t-see-the-floor disaster. It’s not fair to expect me or my husband to clean this all up later when we didn’t make one iota of this mess. To excuse the kids from their part in this so we can “enjoy them now and clean up later” seems absolutely absurd. And exhausting.

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Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog.

Notes From a Polar Vortex

I saw it coming late last week when I looked at my weather app. Wednesday loomed large, -16 for the high. Yikes. School would certainly be cancelled since the windchills were predicted to be more than 50 below. Yuck, I thought, I guess winter is finally here.

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The last time we left the house was Sunday afternoon. We saw The Little Mermaid, went out for dinner. There was a winter storm warning, we were supposed to get a snowstorm before the deep freeze hit, though the sky was still sunny and clear when we drove to the movie theater. By the time we left dinner it was dark, about 6:00.

“Let’s swing by Target,” I told Tyson, “I’ll just run in quick. We could use some things to get through the next few days if it’s really going to be as bad as they say it is.”

I ran into Target, threw some necessities in the cart: bread, eggs, marshmallows for hot chocolate, stickers from the dollar section, a rotisserie chicken for soup.

By the time I walked out 15 minutes later, it had started snowing.

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Monday would have been the day to leave the house. It wasn’t that cold yet. The 6-10 inches of snow predicted petered out to a measly 4-5. But school was cancelled. I’d been prepping for Wednesday in my head, but Monday was called off already by late Sunday evening. I heard it was because the Department of Transportation wanted the roads as clear as possible - the more traffic the more the fresh snow would get packed down on the roads, making it impossible for the plows to clear, and impossibly slippery as it got colder. Salt wouldn’t work to melt the ice with the subzero temperatures headed our way.

Because of that, we stayed home, off the roads. We had a couple of playdates, went outside three separate times to play in the snow, drank our hot chocolate. Let the adventure begin.

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That was my first thought: this was all some big, grand adventure. Except instead of being really exciting, the adventure was survive being trapped inside your house for a bunch of days with three kids under five.

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My next thought was to wonder about the homeless. Where would people go? There’s no way to survive this, not without shelter. My heart and mind kept turning back to them. I did hear that shelter workers were out, full-force, to help and encourage people to find shelter. And that city buses and other public transportation would be running all night as a place for people to find refuge from the cold. It made me feel a little better. But only a little.

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I raided my drawers for my coziest sweaters. If we were going to be trapped inside, I was at least going to look the part. Maybe this wasn’t an adventure so much as the ultimate hygge challenge. I made plans to hygge the shit out of this thing: I pulled out our warmest blankets, drank hot tea and coffee, sat in front of the fireplace, planned my baking schedule.

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Tuesday we walked over to a neighbor’s house for a change of scenery. We bundled up: inner fleece jackets zipped into the outer waterproof ones, snowpants, boots, our warmest hats and mittens. All for the 2-minute walk four houses down and across the street. I warned the kids that we couldn’t stop to play; we just had to walk straight over and go inside. I told them how dangerous this cold was, tried to explain frostbite.

“Do bugs give you the bites?” Brooklyn wanted to know.

“No,” I told her, “The cold does.” It was very confusing.

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It was weird that we couldn’t leave the house, a sort of forced confinement. I mean, we could have - and eventually did - but we were strongly advised not to. And with all the reports of cars not starting I didn’t exactly want to successfully leave the comfort of our home only to risk the car not starting to return, leaving me stranded with three kids. Not to mention the cold just plain hurt your face.

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It felt sort of like a holiday, except not. Everyone was pretty cocooned up in their own houses. And Tyson still had to work (maybe a downside to working from home?). My motivation went to nil, just like it does between Christmas and New Year’s. I could’ve/should’ve written more, prepped more for the kids’ upcoming birthday party, maybe even cleaned my house. Instead I embraced my cocoon, more often opting for books and blankets than not.

(I finished this book in just a couple of days, and made some decent headway into both this one and this one.)

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Besides the homeless, I wondered about employees missing work because their businesses were closed, or parents who still had to work but suddenly had children to take care of for four straight days. So many businesses were (justifiably) closed, but what if their employees couldn’t afford to miss work, even for a day? I viewed this all as a lark, my grand hygge adventure. I winged up prayers for those who thought this was anything but.

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By Wednesday I was over it. We all were. Wednesday was the worst day of all. We’d already been through two days of this and then Wednesday rolled around. I mean, the entire state was shut down. Schools, restaurants, stores. Even mail delivery was suspended.

In my own house, there were more tears, yelling, and tantrums than the previous two days combined.

“DON’T PLAY WITH A TOY BY YOUR BROTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT HIM TO TOUCH IT!”
“HE WILL STOP CHASING YOU IF YOU STOP RUNNING.”
“RESPECT YOUR SISTER!”

Angry mom came out on Wednesday. She enforced an unprecedented 11:00 am quiet time because we could no longer all be in the same room together. She shook her fist at the heavens for allowing such a thing as a polar vortex to exist. She self-medicated with strong coffee and cookies.

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Monday we baked chocolate chip cookies. Wednesday we made compost cookies. Today we made granola muffins.

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Generally speaking, I noticed a pretty clear divide in the emotions of parents whose kids were home all day every day for four straight (week)days.

The parents whose kids were usually at school (and could easily be home to accommodate this change in schedule) seemed thrilled.

Those of us who are usually with our kids for the bulk of the day anyway: not so much.

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Wednesday afternoon some neighbors came over.

“I hope they don’t get any of those bites!” Brooklyn said when I told her they were on the way.

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Thursday, we left the house.

We had to. We were desperate for groceries and a change of scenery. There was the sense that the worst was over. I loaded everyone up in the car (noting the -26 degree temperature displayed on the dash) and just prayed we would make it back home. (Spoiler alert: we did.)

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More polar vortex recipes: chicken and dumpling soup. Swedish meatballs. Pasta alla vodka.

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Well, that’s one way to close out January.

Godspeed tomorrow, preschool teachers. They’ve been home with us all week. TGIF indeed.

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